Last month, the president proved once again that he thinks America is a reality TV show starring him. He proved once again that he’s racist, classist and ignorant of American history, and that he’s unfit for the office he holds. It’s been obvious since his campaign that he’s a racist, misogynistic, dangerous man and none of those things count as strikes against him. It’s not that it’s acceptable for the leader of our country to ask why “all these people from shithole countries want to come here.” (Though, if America is on its way to being so great again, why wouldn’t people want to come here, Mr. President?) It’s that continuing to be outraged by his predictable racism, deceit, self-aggrandizement, hypocrisy and arrogance is not addressing the problem.
What is the problem? It is that we do not have a culture where evils like racism, sexism, misogyny and the worship of money are disqualifiers for high office. Getting upset about every next thing Trump says, as shameful as it always is, is not good self-care and it’s not an effective use of energy if we want this trauma to end.
Is it because he comes back later and either denies saying the horrible things he’s on the record saying or directly contradicts them? Several days after the “shithole” comment, the president wrote to African regional leaders expressing his “deep respect” for African nations and adding that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be making an extended visit to the continent next month. Never mind that Tillerson is the former CEO of Exxon or that the fossil fuel industry is a huge contributor to the changes in our climate that are wreaking havoc on a continent our country has been exploiting for centuries. Never mind that the president never actually apologizes for offending or hurting anyone.
It’s a terrible situation. Women, people of color, people with disabilities, poor people, immigrants, Muslims and members of the LGBTQ community all have every right to be constantly outraged at this man nearly every time he opens his mouth. And yet doing so gives him exactly what he wants: attention. His chief tool for remaining ever in the spotlight is gaslighting — which is, in a nutshell, shooting someone and then blaming them for bleeding. We should not accept his behavior as normal, and yet pointing out the evidence of his racism, explaining why calling other nations “shitholes” is a) racist and b) unacceptable and the unending articles fact-checking the other things the president says, proving them false over and over again, seems to be to no avail. He is still allowed to be president.
So maybe the real problem underlying the cultural acceptance of the radical othering our government and its leader promote is fear. We live in a society that allows people to fall all the way to the bottom and then we punish them for not working harder. Maybe an accident or illness wiped them out financially; maybe a spouse left or died; maybe a parent kicked them out. We see the effects of the intersection of late-stage extractive capitalism, individualism and a basically non-existent safety net every day and we feel deeply that we could be next at any moment. We could lose our jobs, our health or our families, and there would be nothing to catch us. We feel out of control and having an enemy, no matter how irrational, helps us handle the heavy, painful, relentless fear of having to make it on your own in a culture that does not care about providing for everyone.
But this is why constant outrage, even though it is definitely merited, won’t get us what we need, at least not by itself. What we — especially those who are poor, disabled, female, Muslim, LGBTQ, not white — need is rest. That is to say, we need each other. We are not one another’s enemies. Poverty, isolation and the deliberate obscuring of the truth, which serve to fuel every ‘ism’ the president displays, are.
Megan Wildhood is a writer, advocate in the mental health community and published poet and essayist living in Seattle.
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